Introduction to Pitch Design
My name is Matt Ventricelli, and I have been working in professional baseball for five years. Over those years, I have learned how important player development has become to today's game and that includes pitch design. Pitch design is the next level of pitching development and it is the process of using instant feedback from technology like Rapsodo and Edgertronic cameras to maximize the movement of the baseball. By using this process, we can enhance a players repertoire to become the best pitcher they can be.
But how can some algorithms and numbers help make good pitchers great? There is no one right answer, there are multiple different ways to throw each pitch and one may work for pitcher A but not pitcher B.
Pitch design is like a recipe. Some ingredients (pitches) mix with some better than others, and I am looking to discover those recipes and create the best pitchers in the game.
I want to start by discussing the mindset you should have when conducting a pitch design session. What are we looking to do with our player? What pitches do we want in his repertoire, and how can we maximize the effects of those pitches? To start, I want to look at a plotted chart of each type of pitch we are going to discuss in the future.
Plotted on this chart are 8 different pitches and their average movement. The Y-Axis represents vertical movement and the X-Axis represents horizontal movement.
We will refer back to this often throughout our discussions to compare each pitch and their benefits to each other.
It is hard to have a discussion on pitch design without invoking the guru himself, Trevor Bauer. Bauer has been active with pitch design since before the 2014 season when he began working out at Driveline Baseball. He has nearly perfected his process over all these years, and it has shown in his addition of a slider and perfection of his 2-seam fastball and changeup. His success with pitch design has been a huge part of him becoming one of the league's top pitchers.
Above is a video showing part of Bauer's process. He likes to color in portions of different baseballs to help him visualize the axis he is trying to generate as he throws. Using the 1,000 frames per second(fps) Edgertronic cameras, he is able to see exactly what the ball is doing and better understand the changes he needs to make.
When designing a pitch, we start by getting base video of what each of your pitches looks like right now. From there, we decide what our movement goals are in terms of spin axis and spin efficiency. After that, we throw!
Former first rounder, Casey Weathers, described how he utilizes the tech for his pitch design process as he is throwing off the mound.
"With the Rapsodo hooked up to an iPad and then to a big-screen television right next to the mound, the workflow was efficient. Throw it. Was it? No. Throw it. Ok, I did it. What did i feel? How can i repeat that?. The Rapsodo just takes out all of the subjective questions and makes you objectively accountable to get the pitch to do what you want it to do. I had many instances where I was like, 'That one was nasty, that's it,' and then the machine comes back and is like, 'No that's 30% [efficiency]. That's not a good pitch."
Weathers has a great understanding of the process of pitch design. You throw the baseball and use the readings to tweak your approach one way or another until you reach the desired axis and efficiency you set in your goals. Once you hit that mark it's repitition, repitition, repition. When you can teach your body to constantly and effectively repeat the new motions then you can rely on the pitch in game.
Now, I'd like to lay out some terms and definitions that will help for the rest of our discussions.
Vertical Movement - The balls movement up and down as it travels to the plate. Negative measurements refer to the ball being closer to the ground.
Horizontal Movement - Ball movement left and right. Movement from left to right is measured in positive numbers while right to left is measured in negative numbers.
Magnus Force - The magnus force is the pressure around a ball that creates a deviation from its path by creating movement. What is happening is the spinning ball drags air faster towards one side than the other. This creates a difference in pressure that moves the ball in the direction toward the lower-pressure side. Backspin on a ball increases air pressure under the ball, reduces air pressure above the ball and creates the magnus force that adds vertical movement on your fastball. A true 12/6 curveball, a curveball with no horizontal movement, would be the exact opposite effect in this case. Below is a Youtube video from Vertasium and an image for your visualization. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23f1jvG(UWJs)
Transverse Spin (True Spin) - Contributes to the magnus effect. This is the amount of spin that actually affects the movement of the pitch.
Gyroscopic Spin - Does not contribute to the magnus effect or spin of the ball. This looks like a perfect spiral from a football or a bullet. 0% Spin Efficiency. Perfect gyroscopic spin is straight from hand to glove with no horizontal or vertical movement (ignoring the effect of gravity).
Spin Rate - The rate at which the ball spins in revolutions per minute (rpm).
Spin Efficiency - How much of the transverse/true spin affects the ball. 100% efficiency would mean the 2200rpm has a 2200rpm transverse/true spin.
Spin Axis/Tilt - The direction the ball is spinning. Usually visualized like the hands of a clock or in terms of degrees (12:00 would be 180 degrees).
Ball A has movement to the left or right.
Ball B has movement up or down.
Ball C has gyroscopic spin and will have no magnus force on it and no movement in either direction.
Tunneling - An idea that if each pitch can travel down the same initial trajectory long enough, the batter won’t be able to tell them apart before they need to swing.
This GIF shows a 4seam and 2seam fastball being thrown and you can see how long it takes for the pitches to deviate.
Effective Velocity - This is a concept used to understand how the ball will appear to be faster to a hitter based on a few different variables like location and pitcher extension. Sometimes, even though two pitches will both be 90mph, one may feel faster than the other to a hitter.
The mound is 60ft 6in away from home plate, but the ball will travel many different distances based on a pitchers mechanics, extension, and the location it crosses the plate. If the pitcher has a throwing motion that allows him to hide the ball from the batter well, it will take him longer to recognize the pitch, creating deceptive velocity. The further the pitchers extends to the plate, the less distance the ball travels from hand to glove and the less time a hitter has to react, making the ball seem faster. Finally, as shown in the image here, a RHP throwing inside on a RHH has less distance to travel than if he were throwing outside to a RHH and the same with LHP and LHH matchups. This makes the ball seem faster or slower.
Next time, we will discuss the different types of tech that is most often utilized in a pitch design session and how each one is vital to the development of a pitcher.